Here we step back and provide some reminders for writing clear business English. They apply whether you are writing a report, a newsletter or a story for your website.

1. Plan what you want to say

Dot points or headings are great for planning, getting content in the best order, and subsequently checking you’ve covered everything. Consider who you are writing for, why you are writing, and what message you want to deliver – perhaps aim for three key points.

2. Use topic sentences

This is just like school! Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea for that paragraph. In reports, use a logical heading structure.

3. Keep it active

To be readable, most of your writing needs to be in the active rather than the passive voice.

Passive: Decisions should be made by the General Manager and the heads of sections as to delegation levels.

Active: The General Manager and the heads of sections should decide on delegation levels.

4. Cut out unnecessary words

Keep the language straightforward and avoid the temptation to hide behind long phrases. Some examples are from the Plain English Campaign:

used for calculation purposes used for calculation
according to our records our records show
please find enclosed I enclose
for the duration of during, while
give consideration to consider, think about
your attention is drawn to please see, please note

The Plain English Campaign in the UK has a useful list of alternative words on its homepage. We recommend bookmarking and using this site.

5. Write short sentences

Aim to keep most of your sentences brief. For a wide audience, such as the public, 12 words per sentence is a great goal. You can shorten sentences in these ways:

  • use bullet points for lists
  • cut out unnecessary words, as suggested above
  • split some long sentences into shorter ones

Here is a long sentence we have split successfully:

Although most of our corporate customers have stayed three nights or more and have received executive membership offers following their stay, only 12% have paid repeat visits. (27 words) Most of our corporate customers have stayed three nights or more and have received executive membership offers following their stay. However, only 12% have visited again. (20 words and 6 words)

6. Review!

Re-visit your writing, preferably after a little time has elapsed, or ask someone else to check it. Picking up our own errors is difficult because our eyes see what we intended to say rather than what we actually wrote.